Toxic vinyl chloride accidents happen once every five days, report finds

By Dana Drugmand

Accidental releases of toxic vinyl chloride have occurred in the United States once every five days, on average, since 2010, according to a new report that highlights the extent to which communities and chemical plant workers are exposed to the known carcinogen. 

The findings add to a growing body of evidence on the frequency of hazardous chemical accidents, including a 2023 report that found such incidents occur in the US almost daily.

Environmental, public health and community advocates have been calling on the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban vinyl chloride following a February 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which resulted in a “controlled” combustion of vinyl chloride in several rail cars that exposed residents to the chemical. 

The report, produced by Material Research L3C on behalf of the environmental groups Beyond Plastics and Earthjustice, is intended to help inform the EPA as it takes steps towards conducting a risk assessment of vinyl chloride, along with four other toxic chemicals, a move the agency announced in December. The review, conducted under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA), would be the first step towards considering a potential ban on vinyl chloride or additional restrictions to help protect public health and the environment from exposure to the chemical. 

In public comments to the EPA, the groups Beyond Plastics, Earthjustice, and Toxic-Free Future urged the agency to quickly move to designate vinyl chloride as a “high priority substance” so that it can begin the risk evaluation.